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Hilber Psychological Services

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Healthy Communication Styles, Part 1

For the past two articles, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part 1 and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part 2, I have discussed unhealthy communication skills between partners based on Dr. John Gottman’s research. If you identified unhealthy patterns in your relationship, do not worry. Today we will be discussing two out of four modifications to use instead of those unhealthy patterns Dr. Gottman labeled as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

  • Criticism: Attacking your partner’s character or personality, often generalized using works such as always or never.
    • Instead of stating a negative comment to your partner (about your partner), try using what Dr. Gottman refers to as a “gentle start-up.” Instead of blaming your partner, non-judgmentally describe the situation, state what the experience was like for you, and be direct by stating your needs. Be as specific as possible without accusing your partner.
    • Examples: Instead of starting a conversation stating, “You never do the dishes,” a gentle-approach may look more like this: “I really appreciated you taking out the trash yesterday, it was really helpful. I’m frustrated because I feel that the majority of household tasks falls on my shoulders, and that can be overwhelming. It would be helpful for me if you could take care of the dishes a few nights a week.”
  • Contempt: Attacking your partner’s sense of self via verbal (such as insults) and non-verbal (such as rolling your eyes) cues intended to hurt your partner.
    • Instead of attacking your partner’s sense of self via hurtful words and actions, try focusing on your own emotions and feelings about the event. One way to accomplish this is to utilize what Dr. Gottman refers to as “I-Statements.” The purpose is to avoid starting a sentence with “you” because, according to Dr. Gottman’s research, that is more likely to create defensiveness in your partner.
    • Examples: Instead of saying, “You never spend time with me,” try stating what that experience is like for you. That might look like the following: “I feel sad and lonely when we do not spend quality time together. I would like to spend more time with you. Would you like to go to a movie together this weekend?”

Healthy communication is all about putting the puzzle pieces back together in the correct way. It is about having an understanding of your partner's perspective, and feeling that your partner understands your perspective. Couples do not have to agree on everything, but having a safe space where both partners can be open and honest is important.

For more information on healthy communication patterns, come back next week as I continue to discuss alternate ways to handle unhealthy communication in your relationship.

If you feel that these alternate communication styles have been helpful and you would like to learn more information with your partner, couples therapy can be a great way to discuss these issues with a neutral individual. Please contact us to set up an appointment if interested in services. If you have any general questions, you can visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.